Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
Horror is an especially subjective genre, regardless of medium. Although people have some basic fears, each person has their own particular button. The discerning horror game (or movie, or book) will find a way to simultaneously prey upon basic human insecurities and vaguely needle at the more specific areas. It’s a delicate high-wire act, to be sure. From the outset, it seems like Long Night Episode One: Alone I Break — the latest indie horror game to hit Steam — has mastered this technique. It’s a successful example of interactive horror, with lurking terrors left for the player to find on their own. But this impression doesn’t last, thanks to an execrable final hour.
Alone I Break begins in your average summer camp, where a group of youths summon an evil spirit, ‘Bloody Mary’-style. You play as David, a member of the D4 group; the kids responsible for unleashing this terror. His friends have scattered, and his beloved summer camp has transformed into a horrific shadow, where the group’s worst fears are made manifest. So it’s Silent Hill by way of Friday the 13th.
A creepy summer camp is by no means an untrod setting, but Long Night absolutely nails it, poisoning the nostalgic imagery you get from summer camp with loads of subtle horrors. Camp Whatever (it’s actually called ‘Long Night Camp’, and that is not a joke) feels like a real place, even if the exact details aren’t quite as memorable. You’ll remember the emotions you felt in this camp more than anything else.
The aforementioned spirit is another spoonful of tension on the nerve-wracking sundae that is Alone I Break’s early moments. Indoors, you’re (relatively) safe. But step outside, and there’s a very good chance you’ll hear an ear-piercing scream. That means you have to start running like a crazy person. Unfortunately, David has a rough case of asthma, so you’ll have to put a little thought into your escape attempts. This mechanic isn’t as frustrating as it may seem — at least, not here.
But the game’s best moments take place inside a cabin. Exploring the camp owner’s house was a white-knuckle experiment in seeing just how much I can grind my teeth before I learn that I’m…not actually supposed to be there. Apparently, that house is for Kickstarter backers, which made me jealous as all-get-out when I learned that. The other cabins are no slouch either. I’ll refrain from spoiling some of the better moments, but it’s worth poking around any interior you find yourself investigating.
So if the atmosphere is so great, why am I generally so down on the game? Well, exploring becomes a pain in the ass later on, due to the game’s brightness slider. Like most games nowadays, it asks you to adjust based on the image to the left. What I didn’t notice was that there were three images, and the image I thought was on the left was, in fact, in the middle. As a result, I could barely see anything whenever the screen got particularly dark.
But that’s a minor quibble compared to the part where a D4 member has to face their fear. Your friend Dewey, has some family issues, particularly when it comes to his mother and his absentee sailor father. There’s some neat (read: delightfully cheesy) stuff there, like a shark with a vagina mouth, but it’s not enough to excuse the game suddenly throwing an Uncharted-esque sequence right at the end. Yup. An Uncharted sequence. You have to run away from a rushing pool of blood, but you can’t run very far because of the asthma. It’s hideously frustrating. When playing that sequence, I’m relatively sure I choked on my own bile.
Thankfully, the garbage only becomes slightly less repelling from there. You’ve got a baffling “puzzle” where you have to follow a certain path (the only parallel I can think of is that part from Temple of Doom where Indy has to walk across those letters) but it’s not clear which path is the correct one, so you have to just guess. And the worst part? If you just follow the critical path, this is literally half of the game. The second half of the game is the horror equivalent of chewing trash.
I take solace in the fact that Alone I Break is but one episode of three, and the gang over at Trickster Face may yet pull off a win. The game’s first half is a prime example of survival horror done well, but everything related to the final moments need to be violently expunged if Long Night is to survive.